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Poverty in Iraq
About 22% of Iraqis live in poverty. Poverty in Iraq is a dynamic issue, the facets of which have changed with the country’s progress and efforts at modernization. Urbanization and the discovery of vast oil reserves have adversely impacted Iraqis with corruption and conflict driving poverty rates up. The following are four exceedingly relevant facts about poverty in Iraq and what the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nongovernmental organization that emerged in 1933 to respond to international humanitarian crises, has done to help since entering Iraq in 2003.

4 Facts About Poverty in Iraq

  1. Urbanization and Food Shortages: Recent conflict and economic change have caused Iraqis to concentrate in urban areas. Iraq is 70.7% urbanized and is nearly unrecognizable in comparison to its agricultural past. Poor agricultural policies have catalyzed this shift toward urbanization and overcrowding in cities. This, combined with military and economic crises, has resulted in as many as one in six households experiencing some form of food insecurity. Iraq has a universal food ration program called the Public Distribution System (PDS), which is its most extensive social assistance program, but it has not been enough. Many Iraqis who have either lost access to the PDS or find that it does not cover enough, have turned to humanitarian agencies like the IRC for aid. Since 2003, the IRC has helped hundreds of thousands of people: in 2018 alone, it assisted 95,000 Iraqis, providing financial, familial, educational and professional support.
  2. Corruption and Oil: According to Transparency International, Iraq is the 13th most corrupt country. The Iraqi government often subsidizes inefficient state industries, which has led many Iraqis to view government and business leaders as corrupt. With the rise in oil prices over the past decades, Iraq’s government had sufficient funds to complete significant reconstruction and aid projects. However, poverty in Iraq has not improved. The oil sector provides an estimated 85 to 95% of government revenue. High-level corruption in Iraq impedes the development of private, non-oil business sectors, spurring overdependence on oil. Protests were rampant in 2019 with Iraqis indignant that their economy was flush with oil money but their government was too corrupt to provide basic services. Average Iraqi citizens never see oil profits due to the corrupt nature of the Iraqi government, which empowers politicians through informal agreements and patronage. Leaders hand out government jobs to build their support networks and stifle dissent, making the public sector inefficient and draining oil profits such that there is little left over for investment in social programs. While federal social programs are lacking and corruption is still serious, NGOs like the IRC have stepped in to pick up the slack and somewhat lighten the suffering of many Iraqis.
  3. Poverty and Unemployment: Roughly 95% of young Iraqis believe they need strong connections to those in power in order to obtain employment. Overall, unemployment is at 11% with one-third of Iraqi youths unemployed and 22% of the population living in poverty. The aforementioned protests in 2019 involved young Iraqis frustrated at being unable to find work, and projections determine that unemployment and poverty will worsen even further in 2020. The United Nations expects the poverty rate to double to around 40%, with monthly oil revenues falling from $6 to 1.4 billion between February and April 2020 due to the recent collapse in global oil prices. To combat these figures, the International Rescue Committee has provided over 40,000 people with emergency supplies, business training and funding to help Iraqis rebuild their lives.
  4. War and Internal Displacement: Conflict with ISIS led to the displacement of over 6 million Iraqis from 2014 to 2017, and about 1.5 million Iraqis remain in camps despite the recent territorial defeat of the terrorist organization. The rise and conquest of ISIS was a primary driver behind the increase of the poverty rate to the current level of 22%, with forced displacement and brutal violence leading to the destruction of Iraqi homes, assets and livelihoods. The above factors have struck internally displaced persons (IDPs) the hardest — few IDPs have employment and most have to support an average of six other members in their household. On top of all this is the fact that many IDPs have lost access to what little the PDS food program does supply, illustrating the true humanitarian challenge of poverty in Iraq. While the displacement and refugee issue is still serious today, the International Rescue Committee has aided over 20,900 women and girls to recover from the violence, providing hope for a battered people.

Despite expansive oil profits flooding into the Iraqi system, this money does not reach ordinary Iraqis who struggle to provide for their families. The failure of urbanization, stark unemployment and violent conflict with ISIS have exacerbated the lack of action from corrupt business and political leaders to address the systemic issue of poverty.

Experts expect global poverty to worsen during the current COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Iraq. Combined with the recent crash in oil prices, this will likely lead to serious unrest in a country that has struggled for decades to bring about some semblance of effective governance. Despite the ongoing issues that these four facts about poverty in Iraq show, hope continues to live on thanks to organizations like the IRC that are able to provide aid.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

Healthcare in Burundi
Burundi is a landlocked country in East Africa with a dense population of 11.89 million people. Due to overpopulation, an ongoing humanitarian crisis and more than 73% of the population in poverty, healthcare in Burundi is unstable, and the people of Burundi are highly susceptible to the wide variety of diseases that are plaguing the country. 

Current Health Risks in Burundi

Accessibility to healthcare in Burundi continues to be an issue for civilians, shown through the rise in deaths that diseases and epidemics caused. COVID-19 has affected the country as a whole and posed a threat to the already fragile healthcare system with records of 104 cases and one death as of June 16, 2020, although the need for more resources and vaccines was already in question long before this specific virus. Without proper treatment or preventative care, diseases like measles, malaria and many other infectious diseases put the population at risk.

In April 2019, the number of measles cases increased to 857 and refugees were reportedly spreading it to communities from refugee camps. Meanwhile, there were 504 cases as of March 2020. Out of the 18 provinces of Burundi, 63% of those districts face a high risk of infection. Low immunity and vaccination rates are two factors putting communities in compromising positions.

Malaria is an ongoing epidemic in Burundi that has claimed the lives of more than 3,170 people, and it continues to spread. Reports determine that the number of cases is 1.2 million, showing a slight decline in cases in comparison to the 1.7 million in 2019. Malaria is treatable and preventable through vaccination and the proper medication; however, access to these supplies and resources is scarce.

Focusing on the Issue  

The numbers on infection and mortality rates of treatable and preventable diseases in Burundi show a need for redirection. Seeing this need, various organizations have proposed ways to put a spotlight on the lack of funding for healthcare systems and supplies and provide the funding necessary to see progress. Here are a few ways organizations are addressing this:

  • In April of 2020, the World Bank and International Development Association (IDA) put into motion a $5 million grant to prevent and counter the spread of COVID-19 and reinforce the preparedness of the health care system of Burundi as a whole. These funds will assist the country’s healthcare system in receiving necessary testing and treatments for existing diseases and epidemics. In coordination with this, the World Bank will disburse $160 billion over the span of 15 months to “protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses and bolster economic recovery.
  • Dr. Norbert Mugabo, a medical officer from Cibitoke province, set out to vaccinate more than 17,000 children as part of a measles vaccination initiative in April of 2020. Dr. Mugabo hopes to reach children between the ages of 9 months and 15 years in light of the outbreak in November 2019.
  • The International Rescue Committee (IRC) set many goals to aid Burundi in 2020. It determined that its main avenue for providing all-around better healthcare is starting with the basics. For example, the IRC intends to rebuild hand washing stations, boosting hygiene and addressing sanitation issues. These small steps forward have the ability to make a big difference long term.

The healthcare system in Burundi lacks the resources and funding needed to help the overall population thrive. However, with the help of dedicated professionals such as Dr. Mugabo and organizations such as the World Bank and the IRC, change in a positive direction is right around the corner.

Katie Mote-Preuss
Photo: Flickr

South Sudan’s Hunger Crisis
South Sudan gained independence in 2011, and in 2013 a civil war broke out. The civil war has displaced approximately more than 4 million people and caused extreme poverty. With the country still stuck in the throngs of conflict and the population on the verge of starvation, humanitarian aid has been especially important during this time. Here are nine organizations fighting South Sudan’s hunger crisis.

9 Organizations Fighting South Sudan’s Hunger Crisis

  1. Action Against Hunger: Action Against Hunger is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 1979 in Paris, France. Currently, Action Against Hunger is fighting emergencies in many countries in Africa with South Sudan being a focus area. The nonprofit has been working in South Sudan since 1985 and has focused its efforts on the recent civil war conflict and treating malnutrition. In 2018, it provided nutrition and other health services to 178,000 people; 46,607 children received malnutrition screenings and 3,250 obtained treatment in hard-to-reach-areas.
  2. International Medical Corps: International Medical Corps is a nonprofit that has been working in South Sudan since the mid-1990s. It provides seeds, tools and food to families in need to support a better livelihood as well as 24-hour stabilization centers that provide health care services. The organization works in five of the country’s 11 states providing outpatient and inpatient treatment for acute malnutrition. Nutrition programs are in Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile, Central Equatoria and Western Bahr-el Ghazal states and have implemented a blanket supplementary feeding program to prevent malnutrition in countries children.
  3. Save the Children: Save the Children is a U.S.-based nonprofit that has been working to better the lives of children all over the world since 1932. It provides food assistance following natural disasters, builds economic and food security within communities, strengthens socio-economic conditions and gives youths the means and information to earn a sustainable income. In South Sudan, Save the Children is the lead provider in six of 11 states with 61 primary health care facilities, 45 outpatient centers and 58 feeding programs for infants and children suffering from malnutrition. Over the years, it has given 466,579 children vital nutrition.
  4. International Rescue Committee: The Emergency Rescue Committee and the International Relief Association created the International Rescue Committee in 1942, joining forces. The organization has been working in South Sudan since 1989 but has doubled its efforts since the country gained independence and civil war followed quickly behind. It mainly works in the Central Equatoria, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Lakes states where it has opened health clinics and is providing nutrition and sanitation services to the communities. In 2018, the International Rescue Committee assisted 900,000 people in South Sudan.
  5. World Food Programme: The World Food Programme is the leading organization dealing with food assistance and providing communities with the ability to improve nutrition. Established in 1961, the World Food Programme works in over 83 countries a year. The first development program launched in Sudan and since then food assistance has increased over the years. The organization works to deliver food to hard-to-reach communities, provide school meals and treat malnutrition in children throughout the country with the help of 12,000 nutrition volunteers in South Sudan; in 2019, it assisted 5 million people.
  6. World Food Program U.S.A.: The World Food Program U.S.A. is a United State-based nonprofit that came into being in 1995. It has a partner in the United Nations World Food Programme. World Food Program U.S.A. works with U.S. policymakers, corporations and foundations to fight global hunger. The organization provides funding for the use of air-drops, all-terrain vehicles and river barges to get food to people. An average of eight air-drops, which can feed 2,000 each, occur in South Sudan. Also, it uses blockchain technology, called Scope, to monitor nutrition success cases. Over 1.4 million people have registered in the system.
  7. Humanity and Inclusion: Humanity and Inclusion, previously known as Handicap International, emerged in 1983. This nonprofit works with the disabled and handicapped communities within places facing extreme poverty, disaster and conflict. It provides services, rehabilitation and nutrition health information. Humanity and Inclusion has worked in South Sudan since 2006. The facilities had to close in 2013 due to the civil war, but have returned and now focus their efforts on rehabilitation of the country’s disabled or injured. Humanity and Inclusion work in South Sudan states Yambio, Lankien, Malakal, Bor, Bientu and Yida.
  8. Care: Care started out in 1945 and works to aid communities in emergencies. It also helps farmers, fishers and pastoralists ensure the nutrition of their families. Care has been working in South Sudan since 1993. The organization delivers emergency food assistance with care packages including sorghum, lentils and cooking oil. It also provides agricultural support, cash and environmental awareness-raising training.
  9. Oxfam International: A group of independent organizations founded Oxfam in 1995. Oxfam works to help fight global poverty worldwide, and it supports over 500,000 people in South Sudan. The organization provides emergency food distribution centers and clean, safe water to communities. In 2017, Oxfam built a solar-powered water treatment plant that reaches 24,000 people within the state of Juba. It also provides families with assets like livestock, tools, seeds and fishing gear to help people provide food for themselves, and give training on better farming methods.

South Sudan’s hunger crisis is a man-made tragedy and 60 percent of the population still faces severe hunger. Still, South Sudan is a great example of humanitarian action making a tremendous impact on communities. South Sudan has avoided famine with the help of many organizations providing food assistance, emergency aid and ways to have a better livelihood.

– Taylor Pittman
Photo: Flickr

AI to Meet the Sustainable Development Goals
Tech giants are using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to create innovative strategies to meet the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and eradicate global poverty by 2030. A central barrier to development in third-world nations is in-access to high-quality, timely and accessible data.

Big data platforms like AI expand capabilities to acquire accurate, real-time, micro-level information, while ML allows pattern recognition at a macro-level. Combined, these data advances can make data more accessible, applicable and finely scalable while accelerating the speed and scale for private and public development actors to implement change. Companies are partnering across public, private and nonprofit sectors to broaden the collective impact.

Take a look at the innovative approaches tech giants are taking to help global poor communities with data and what the incorporation of AI technologies means for the future of global poverty initiatives. These approaches aim to employ AI to meet the SDGs within its allotted time frame.

Education and Digital Training

On June 19, 2019, the day preceding World Refugee Day, Microsoft announced the inception of two projects partnering with Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). These projects supplement its AI for Humanitarian Action group to help incorporate AI to meet the SDGs.

The AI for Humanitarian Action group is a $40 million, five-year program part of Microsoft’s larger AI for Good suite (a $115 million, five-year project). The projects will provide AI tools to help staff track court dates, prioritize emergency cases and translate for families with AI speech-to-text. Microsoft also has continuing partnerships to incorporate AI/ML into educational services for refugees with the following groups:

  1. International Rescue Committee (IRC): This committee works to provide humanitarian aid through the creation of sustainable programming for refugees, displaced populations and crisis-affected communities. This includes career development programming and digital skills training to empower refugees and make them relevant for the job markets in each affected country. Microsoft and IRC’s Technology for Livelihoods in Crisis project in Jordan is an example of this.
  2. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Together with the University of Cambridge, the UNICEF is developing The Learning Passport. The digital platform will ensure better access to education and facilitate learning opportunities for youth displaced by conflict and natural disasters. It creates scalable learning solutions tailored to each child. Crises have affected the quality of education for 75 million youth.
  3. Norwegian Refugee Council: This council is providing an AI chatbot service that uses language understanding, machine translation and language recognition to deliver high-quality education and digital skills training to refugees. This helps to close the education gap for the millions of youth affected by conflict. It will also help humanitarian workers communicate with migrants who speak other languages, which will help them best provide the best service.
  4. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): UNHCR plans to provide 25,000 refugees in Kakuma with access to high-quality, accredited, context-appropriate digital learning and training by 2020 for development in Kakuma markets. UNHCR intends this project to expand across multiple countries.

Food Security and Agricultural Development

The fact that farms do not always have power or internet security limits technological developments that address food security and agricultural development. Here are some efforts that consider the capabilities of farmers and the respective developing regions:

  1. Microsoft FarmBeats: It aims to enable data-driven farming compatible with both the capabilities of the farmer and the region. FarmBeats is employing AI and IoT (Information of Things) solutions using low-cost sensors, drones and vision and ML algorithms. This combined AI and IoT approach enables data-driven improvements in agriculture yield, lowered costs and reduced environmental impacts of agricultural production, and is a significant contribution to help AI to meet the SDGs.
  2. Apollo: Apollo uses agronomic machine learning, remote sensing and mobile phones to help farmers maximize profits in developing markets. Apollo delivers scalable financing, farm products and customized advice to farmers while assessing the farmers’ credit risk. Apollo customizes each product in order to double farm yields and improve credit. The beta project is starting in Kenya.
  3. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)/CGIAR research group: It aims to implement preemptive solutions rather than reactive solutions to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. CIAT has developed a Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS), which uses machine learning to make predictions on malnutrition patterns based on current and future estimates of crop failures, droughts and rising food prices. This approach is able to detect an impending nutrition crisis and take action instead of responding after the crisis has taken hold.

Socioeconomic Data Collection

According to a report by The Brookings Institute as a part of its “A Blueprint for the Future of AI series,” data providing national averages “conceal more than they reveal” and inaccurately estimate and map patterns of poverty. Survey data is often entirely unavailable or otherwise low in quality in many of the poorest countries where development needs are greatest. 39 of the 59 countries in Africa conducted less than two surveys between 2000 and 2010.

Even in large countries with sophisticated statistical systems, such as India, survey results remain inaccurate, with the gap between personal reporting and national accounts amounting to as much as a 60 percent difference in some countries. Companies are addressing this by utilizing big data from remote sensing satellites.

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is using Earth Observations (EO) to provide finely-tuned and near-real-time data on economic activity and population distribution by measuring nighttime luminosity. Researchers have noted a correlation between luminosity and GDP as well as subnational economic output. Collecting socioeconomic data in this way can ensure higher quality data important to policy implementation and direction to countries with the greatest development needs.

Timothy Burke and Stan Larimer launched Sovereign Sky in 2018, putting satellite data into action. Sovereign Sky is the world’s first space-based blockchain which provides secure private internet networks and powers a new Free World Currency to redistribute the world’s wealth with a goal of eradicating poverty by 2032.

The eight current satellites cover Africa and India and the organization will send boxes of StealthCrypto phones, digital wallets, smart cards and modems to people in need. Sovereign Sky will deploy 36 satellites within three to 10 years to cover the entire world in a secure blockchain internet connection, closing the gap on technological interactions between all nations and including the world’s remotest and poorest areas in internet connectivity.

Pitfalls of AI-Driven Global Development Initiatives, and Moving Forward

AI and ML have crucial capabilities in reshaping education, agriculture and data collection in the developing world. However, these technologies have a history of producing unethical racial profiling, surveillance and perpetuating stereotypes, especially in areas with a history of ethnic conflict or inequality. AI and ML applications have to adapt in ways to ensure effective, inclusive and fair distribution of big data resources in the developing world. Development experts need to be in close collaboration with technologists to prevent unethical allocations.

This diversification is why it is important that tech giants like Microsoft, and projects like those by the ICAT/CGIAR, are created in collaboration with various nonprofit, public and private sector groups to ensure interdisciplinary ethical liability for big data applications in sustainable development contexts. Ensuring the use of AI technologies is context-specific to the affected regions and populations will help prevent misappropriation of the technology and increase quality and effectiveness.

Working with local companies and sectors can create long-lasting engagement and grow permanent technology sectors in the developing areas thus contributing to the local economy. These strategies can put forth effective, ethical and productive applications of AI to meet the SDGs.

– Julia Kemner
Photo: Flickr

Yemen Peace Talks
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is cause for despair; however, the recent Yemen peace talks in Sweden and outreach programs providing humanitarian aid are offering new hope to those suffering from the conflict. Through the Yemen peace talks, the United Nations was able to negotiate a ceasefire agreement on December 18, putting at least a pause on the war until countries can reach a further agreement. This finally opens the door to providing humanitarian aid.

Opposed to War in Yemen

Despite President Trump’s wishes, the Senate ended all aid in military assistance to Saudi Arabia following the peace talks. Thanks to Senator Mike Lee of Utah and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for writing the agreement, the War Powers Act was used to assert Congress’ role in military power, overriding the White House. According to the New York Times, Trump was against the end of military assistance in fear that it would cost America “billions” of dollars in arms sales, putting the fear of losing money in front of regard for human life (a reference to the Saudi Prince having allegedly killed American journalist Jamal Khashoggi).

The humanitarian crisis currently taking place in Yemen was caused by war, and the only way to stop it is to end the war and promote peace. Humanitarian organizations such as Save the Children and CARE, along with several other organizations, wrote a letter to the U.S. government to use their influence to end the war. Providing more military support will only perpetuate the problem; whereas, peace will resolve it. Lise Grande, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, stated that the priority must be to increase access to currency and ensure that Yemenis are able to access shipments of food.

Humanitarian Aid

With the ceasefire in play, the focus can be shifted to the humanitarian crisis and helping the suffering people in Yemen. About half of Yemen’s population is subject to starvation and is in dire need of aid as a result of the war. “The big countries say they are fighting each other in Yemen, but it feels to us like they are fighting the poor people,” said Mr. Hajaji to the New York Times. Hajaji is a father who has already lost one child to starvation and is afraid of losing his second, who is struggling to stay alive.

According to Save the Children’s fact sheet, about 85,000 children are estimated to have died from starvation and disease since the beginning of the war in Yemen. Despite the high numbers of people who have died or are suffering from starvation, organizations like Save the Children are making a difference and increasing the number of survivors. This organization has treated nearly 100,000 children suffering from malnutrition and is operating mobile health clinics in the hardest-to-reach areas.

Ways to Help

People from the U.S. can help alleviate this issue in numerous ways. One such method is by contacting Senators and U.S. representatives through the United States Senate website and urge them to give aid and resources to Yemen. Since Yemen’s famine is income based, the best thing the people can do to aid is to donate money to those in need to survive. Organizations like Save the Children are also distributing cash and vouchers for food to families as well as education and safe spaces for children to keep getting an education despite the harsh circumstances and ongoing recovery from war trauma.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is providing outreach through healthcare, nutrition, water/sanitation services and by providing financial assistance to those struggling survive. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is providing education, food security, shelter and water outreach to many Yemenis. Volunteer and/or donating to these organizations will help their work reach more people.

The resolution of the Yemen peace talks to enact a cease-fire and the U.S. halting its military assistance to Saudi Arabia serve as a positive catalyst for change in the right direction. The ongoing battle is now the aid for Yemenis in an attempt to end their critical condition of poverty. Organizations such as Save the Children, IRC, NRC and UNICEF are providing outreach and saving people’s lives, making significant progress in the work to end Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

– Anna Power

Photo: Flickr

five NGOs are petitioning the government to end the war in Yemen
The war in Yemen between Houthi rebels and the Saudi led coalition has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Despite the dire situation, there is reason to hope. On November 26, five NGOs petitioned the U.S. Government to call an end to the war. Two days later, the U.S. Government announced it would add an additional $24 million to USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. On December 13, the Senate voted to end the United States support of the Saudi coalition. These are the five NGOs that are petitioning to end the war in Yemen.

Since 2015, there have been more than 16,000 civilians casualties, 22.2 million people, including 11 million children, are in need of aid and eight million are at risk of famine. The war has led to a host of other problems as well, including a cholera outbreak and a lack of access to clean water. Many organizations are trying to stop the conflict in Yemen. These are 5 nonprofit organizations working hard to protect the people of Yemen.

These are the 5 NGOs that are petitioning to end the war in Yemen

  1. International Rescue Committee (IRC): The International Rescue Committee, headed by David Miliband, a former U.K. Secretary of Foreign Affairs, is focused on humanitarian relief operations in war-affected areas. Right now it operates in more than 40 countries, and its refugee resettlement program operates in 28 U.S. cities. The IRC has been providing aid to Yemen since 2012, working to protect women and children as well as provide access to healthcare and education.
  2. Oxfam: Oxfam is a global organization working in more than 90 countries to end poverty. Led by Abby Maxman, the former Deputy Secretary General of CARE International, Oxfam believes in identifying and changing the root causes of poverty rather than just sending material aid. Through fighting and eliminating injustice, Oxfam feels that poverty can finally be eliminated. The organization has been working in Yemen since 2015 to prevent diseases by providing sanitation, hygiene assistance and clean water to those affected by the war.
  3. CARE: CARE is active in 93 countries around the globe working to combat social injustice and poverty. The organization is headed by Michelle Nunn, who previously ran the organization Points of Light and had been a candidate for the U.S. Senate. CARE current goal is to reach 200 million of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2020. CARE has been working in Yemen since 1992 and is currently providing food, water and sanitation to one million Yemenis people each month.
  4. Save the Children: Save the Children is an organization that works in the U.S. and around the world to provide for underprivileged children. It is headed by Carolyn Miles, who has been with the organization since 1998. Save the Children is active in 120 countries worldwide promoting nutrition, health and education programs. Save the Children is doing just that in Yemen by treating almost 100,000 Yemenis children for malnutrition through mobile health clinics.
  5. Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC): The Norwegian Refugee Council started its relief efforts after World War II and continues its mission to this day. The organization is active in 32 countries across the world to provide clean water, education, camp management, legal aid, food assistance and shelter to refugees. The Norwegian Refugee Council is headed by Jan Egeland, who has been with the organization since 2013 and was appointed in 2015 by the U.N. as special envoy to Syria. In 2017, the NRC has provided food for more than 300,000 Yemenis and shelter to more than 50,000.

These 5 NGOs that are petitioning to end the war in Yemen are all fighting for a better world for the world’s poor. Through their work, they were able to spur the government into action. Since the petition, millions of dollars have been added to the aid package for Yemen, and the U.S. has voted to end its military involvement in the conflict.

Peter Zimmerman
Photo: Flickr

War in SyriaSyria’s civil war has been raging on for eight years now. The conflict has created a huge population of 5.7 million refugees in critical need of humanitarian assistance. The resulting humanitarian crisis is one of the worst the world has seen in recent years. Several organizations are on the ground trying to provide humanitarian solutions for the victims of war in Syria.

Syrian Democratic Forces

Recently, the Islamic State (IS) made its last stand to desperately hold on to the last tiny piece of territory it has, a small town in Eastern Syria called Baghouz. In September 2018, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) initiated what they hope to be their final military push to reclaim IS turf. The operation has been excruciatingly slow and deadly.

Civilians are struggling to slip out of the militants’ grasp and into the global humanitarian community. The SDF is working to help extract the civilian families out of the last holdout of IS fighters. It is believed that several thousand people are still huddled together in the final IS enclave. The people pouring out of Baghouz to seek shelter from the war in Syria pose a huge humanitarian challenge.

Almost 40,000 civilians have already left the diminishing IS territory, but the flow was severely interrupted when IS fighters closed off all exit roads. IS extremists were obstructing civilians from escaping, using them as human shields from airstrikes. Now, small groups of refugees sneak out into humanitarian corridors with the help of smugglers. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian organization working to help refugees escape the war in Syria and to monitor refugee movements.

Save the Children

Children escaping from the war in Syria are especially in need of humanitarian assistance. Beyond food, health services, education and other basic needs, child refugees require mental health services. Syrian refugee children consistently show signs of psychological trauma. Save the Children is striving to provide necessary services for Syrian child refugees. Among other things, they are working to establish recreational spaces and centers for unaccompanied children in the refugee camps. They provide mental health and socializing services in a safe environment for war-weary children.

According to Save the Children, the war in Syria has made it the most dangerous country in the world for children. In Syria, 5.3 million children need humanitarian assistance. Children are not only the victims of violence but also the targets of abduction and recruitment into armed groups. In three refugee camps in North-East Syria, there are more than 2,500 children from at least 30 different countries.

There is much work to be done, and Save the Children emphasizes that the organization is in dire need of more support. Extra funding is necessary to provide case management and protective services for more children. Foreign children need their countries of origin to facilitate repatriation. Save the Children urges the international community to help preserve family unity and aid those returning to their countries of origin from the war in Syria.

Other Humanitarian Organizations

Humanitarian organizations help 700,000 people each month in North Eastern Syria. In March, Brussels will host a pledging conference to raise more funds for humanitarian aid to Syria. In 2018, various nations collectively raised $5 billion for Syrian relief. In Syria, the United Nations aid feeds around 3 million people each month, and U.N. medical assistance has treated nearly 3 million patients.

The U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been cooperating to transport and deliver large amounts of aid to refugee camps in Syria. On February 6, the largest of such shipments arrived in Rukban, a refugee settlement in the demilitarized zone established by the major warring parties. The majority of Rukban’s inhabitants are women and children. The convoy included 133 trucks loaded with food, health and nutritional supplies, hygiene materials, education items, children’s recreational kits and vaccines. The aid came at a critical time to help save the lives of at least 40,000 people who live in the settlement.

The Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD) is another humanitarian organization working to enhance the lives of marginalized Syrians. They improve and provide schools, community centers, safe spaces, elder care facilities and other communal programs. Since the beginning of the conflict, they have been able to increase the scope of their assistance in both geographical range and by the number of people helped. Their programs have benefitted more than 1 million people.

There are organizations doing everything they can to help Syrian refugees survive and return to a peaceful life. Thanks to the efforts of thses humanitarian organizations, refugees, who have been surrounded by airstrikes and extremist violence, have shelter against the harsh Syrian winter.

Peter Mayer

Photo: Flickr

the holdout province
While the world has breathed a collective sigh of relief following the September agreement made by Turkey and Russia – thus halting the advance of troops, the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib has yet to exhale. It remains one of the last rebel strongholds in the conflict. As world leaders work to decide Idlib’s political future, many workers toil to provide aid in the holdout province.

Aid in the Holdout Province

Presently the area known as the holdout province is home to three million people. There are around 1.5 million people living in the area who are internally displaced, having fled to escape previous rounds of fighting. This influx of people has stretched already scarce resources (housing, food and medicine) even more thinly.

The United Nations has been doing its part to help, both inside and out of the diplomatic arena. By running cross-border operations from Turkey, the U.N. has organized a convoy of more than 1,000 trucks to deliver winter supplies, such as blankets, coats, boats, gas stoves and plastic shelter materials. As winter approaches and nightly temperatures become cold – especially for those without proper housing – many will be glad to have the extra warmth.

Through its food assistance arm (The World Food Program or WFP), the U.N. is also doing what it can to give food aid in the holdout province. In October alone, the WFP was able to feed 3.2 million people. Food deliveries were able to reach 14 Syrian provinces, including the more isolated areas of Syria like the Aleppo, rural Damascus and Ar-Raqqa governorates, which fed almost 291,865. Specific packages addressing malnutrition and nutrient deficiency were provided to more than 100,000 children – reaching many in the holdout governorate.

Medical and Psychological Care

Medical attention is difficult to find in any conflict; keeping facilities well supplied and away from the fighting can be an impossible task. In September, four hospitals were damaged in attacks. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is combating this shortage, supporting ten health facilities, as well as two mobile clinics and four emergency response teams. The teams deliver kits stocked with clothing and sanitary supplies. Through the IRC’s efforts, 860,000 patients were treated in 2017, with 80,000 people being treated every month.

Still, while it’s easy to focus on the physical (visible) needs of survivors, the emotional needs of children often – out of necessity – go overlooked. However, the IRC operates a safe space that gives psychosocial support to children as well as providing the children with a place to learn and play. In the future, the IRC plans to distribute kits containing games, books and learning aid through this center. As a consequence of war, children are exposed to the harsh realities of life in a conflict zone; they are denied an education that would enable them to succeed as adults in peacetime. Even small learning toys and aids make a significant difference in light of the alternatives.

Current Negotiations

With the conflict stretching into its eighth year, recent peace talks have been referred to as “a glimmer of hope” by high ranking U.N. members. Syrian representatives have agreed to send 50 representatives to the negotiating committee, and have agreed to speak with 50 representatives from the opposition. Unfortunately, they have refused to ratify any representatives of Syrian civil society in the negotiations. Only fair, fully-represented and public negotiations can truly end the suffering in the country. Until then, aid in the holdout province must continue in order to help these refugees survive.

– John Glade
Photo: Flickr

PA 10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Yemen
Historically, Yemen has been one of the poorest of the Arab countries. Since the civil war that broke out in 2015, the U.N. has found some alarming statistics on the state of the nation. In 2018, the number of Yemeni living in poverty is at a high of 79 percent, a 30 percent increase since 2017. The country is also experiencing other hardships as a result of the war. This includes concerns such as food insecurity, sanitation, healthcare access, nutritional needs, education, lack of access to clean water, a wavering economy and the displacement of people. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Yemen, both the causes and solutions to demonstrate the progress everyone has made.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Yemen

  1. Food insecurity is a problem that is currently impacting 60 percent of Yemen’s population. Save the Children estimated that, since the beginning of the war in 2015, as many as 85,000 children may have died of hunger. Governments, like the U.K for example, have taken action in response. The U.K. has allocated enough funds to provide £170 million in aid for the 2018-2019 year, meeting the food needs of 2.5 million Yemenis.
  2. Malnourishment is having a severe impact on 3 million pregnant or nursing women as well as on children. Thankfully the World Food Programme (WFP) has also been working to combat this. In 2018, WFP used direct food distributions or vouchers to provide 12 million people monthly rations of edible seeds and legumes, vegetable oil, sugar, salt and wheat flour. The organization has also been providing nutritional support to approximately 1.5 million women and children as well. However, humanitarian efforts are also struggling to reach Yemen. A coalition led by Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Yemen airspace. Yemen is an import-heavy country, requiring 10 to 15 thousand metric tons of food, this blockade is pushing Yemen even further to the brink of famine.
  3. The lack of basic healthcare is also having a negative impact on the long-term health of the Yemeni. The war effort has practically demolished the country’s healthcare system. In addition, fewer than 50 percent of healthcare facilities are functioning, leaving approximately 16 million people without access to basic healthcare. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that in 2017, a cholera outbreak infected nearly a million people. Despite being a completely treatable disease, thousands of people died from it.
  4. Contaminated water supplies have also contributed to the spread of waterborne diseases. The collapse of the wastewater management systems, mostly in Houthi-controlled territory, led to the previously mentioned cholera outbreak. In addition to cholera, contagious diseases like diphtheria are spreading to the immunocompromised population as well. Thankfully, both the ICRC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been sending fuel for electric generators to power hospitals, blood banks and labs as well as petrol for ambulances and clean water to try to mitigate the problem.
  5. Rising fuel prices are aggravating other existing issues, like food security, and contributing to the shortening life expectancy. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, in 2017 Yemen ranked at 176 in terms of life expectancy with the average age of 65.9. In comparison, the U.S. ranks at 43 with an average age of 80. In 2016, the U.N. shared that the global average life expectancy was also much higher at 72 years. In the last three years, food costs have increased by 46 percent, partially due to the cost of fuel prices increasing higher than 500 percent of what they were before the conflict. The more expensive fuel is, the higher the food transportation costs are, which leads to more expensive food and the higher likelihood that people are going to go hungry.
  6. The declining economy is also limiting the purchasing power of the Yemeni, making it difficult for them to buy basic necessities. The World Bank notes that household incomes have been continuously declining, partially due to the fact that, traditionally, agriculture has been a source of income for poor households, but it’s now being restricted by several factors. In efforts to combat this problem, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has provided $2 billion to the Central Bank system of Yemen (CBY) as well as an oil grant of $1 billion. This action should help to revitalize the private channels and imported financing facilities previously provided by the CBY for food.
  7. Displacement of the Yemeni has also had a considerable impact on their life expectancy. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2 million people who have escaped the country don’t have access to basic needs like food, water, shelter and healthcare. In response, the UNHCR has also been taking measures to mitigate these problems. The UNHCR provides basic necessities like blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, buckets and emergency shelters. The organization has also provided healthcare services like psycho-social support and worked to prevent the spread of cholera. While refugees travel to these campus for safety, they are still susceptible to danger. Just last month, eight civilians were killed and 30 were injured from after a camp for displaced people in Yemen’s northwestern Hajjah province was bombed.
  8. International Rescue Committee (IRC) is another NGO working to alleviate the burdens of the Yemeni. Since 2012, the IRC has worked to promote cholera awareness, run medical treatment centers, screen and treat children for malnutrition and train volunteers to work in local communities. The IRC has provided primary reproductive care to more than 800,000 people, counseling mothers and caregivers on safe feeding and breastfeeding methods.
  9. Organizations like Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation (YRRF) have also initiated considerable positive changes. Some of their highlights of the 2018 year include sending 1,300 water filters to people in need, distributing a month’s worth of food rations to 110,000 people and providing school bags and supplies to kids. These supplies were given primarily to families in Aslim, Hajjah, an area close to Saudi Arabia where many are unable to access to aid agencies.
  10. In addition to international organizations, passionate individuals are taking action to help the Yemeni. Ahman Algohbary is using his passion for photography, social media skills and ability to speak English to draw attention to the conditions people are going through in Yemen. His images online have led to people sending donations that are being used to sponsor families so they can reach clinics where they can receive nutrition treatment.

The problems that the Yemeni face are essentially all related, making them difficult to resolve. The conflict, for instance, has led to a decrease in funds and focus on vital public services, leading to the failure of sanitation and healthcare. However, international organizations like the UNHCR and ICRC are all stepping up to provide aid to thousands of families. Even individuals on a grassroots level are doing what they can to improve the situation. The 10 facts about the life expectancy in Yemen demonstrate the severity of the issue but also the ability for people all across the world to come together in efforts to help others.

Iris Gao
Photo: Flickr
International Rescue Committee

At the end of 2018, a year unfortunately marked by natural disasters and violent conflict, the global community is looking for ways to cope with international extreme poverty levels measuring at 10.7 percent and provide help for the 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Recent figures published by the U.N. Refugee Agency reveal how almost one person is forcibly displaced from its home every two seconds as a result of the conflict, persecution or natural disaster. This vast number of people struggle to access and achieve basic human rights such as education, health care and employment.

According to many in the humanitarian field, this problem is expected to continue and even increase. Natural disaster-related displacement and impoverishment are expected to increase as a result of increasingly severe natural disasters as a product of climate change.

The International Rescue Committee

Although the situation is grim, there are numerous organizations and institutions fighting to safeguard the rights of impoverished and displaced people throughout the globe. One such group, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has done so since 1933 when it was founded on the suggestion of a prominent group of American intellectuals that included the German-born physicist Albert Einstein.

The IRC, located in the United States, is a humanitarian nonprofit organization that has a mission to respond to humanitarian crises and support the people that are affected by crisis recover from their losses. Operating through 191 field offices in over 30 countries, the IRC has a broad diversity of projects underway that attempt to effectively address crises.

In 2017 alone, the organization helped nearly 23 million people access primary health care and provided 1.14 million children with schooling and other educational opportunities. In addition to their international efforts, the IRC also works in 27 cities in the U.S. in order to help newly settled refugees adjust to life in the country.

How the International Rescue Committee Works

The International Rescue Committee prioritizes evidenced-based impactful programs, fast and effective rescue and relief efforts and follows what they call better aid strategies. The IRC differentiates itself from other nongovernmental organizations with its commitment to ensuring that each of the aid or relief programs it runs are based upon solid, appropriate evidence or is at least contributing to the creation of new evidence.

Additionally, in terms of speedy response, the group has pledged to organize health care, distribute cash and deliver clean water within 72 hours of a disaster. “Better aid“, as the organization describes it, represents refocusing of aid and relief strategies to make quantifiable improvements in the areas in which the organization works (health, economic well-being, safety, education and power) while also being cost-efficient and effective.

Practically, this means devoting more time and energy to cash transfers that have been proven to effectively help people in need at a quicker pace and at lower costs. This also means adhering to evidence-based practices that make the most impact for a limited amount of resources. Additionally, the IRC is focusing on updating the way the humanitarian community approaches protracted displacement.

Protracted Displacement

Protracted displacement refers to the increased duration of displacement and refugees separation from home. The longer-term of refugees staying in host communities have posed a challenge to the traditional mold of humanitarian assistance and has pitted refugees in a burdensome relationship to their asylum governments.

In the International Rescue Committee’s effort to address protracted displacement, the organization is advocating for the advancement of a new model that connects international institutions, donors, refugee host-governments and nongovernmental organizations in a combined effort to shape longer-term sustainable development that incorporates displaced populations not as liabilities, but as contributors in a new economic partnership.

Interventions by outside bodies in the form of providing access to capital, employment, cash transfers and other strategies can uplift displaced communities and help them recover economically while at the same time benefiting host-governments by creating a new labor force willing to work for their place in the country. With new creative planning, like the one being done at the International Rescue Committee, mutualistic relationship between refugees and their hosts can be formed.

Hope for Tomorrow

In the years to come, it is highly unlikely that the crises of poverty, displacement and conflict will dwindle. With the effects of climate change creeping in upon us, bringing stronger and more frequent natural disasters, conflict and higher numbers of displaced people, there’s much work to be done in addressing the problems that will follow.

In that regard, the forward-thinking work being done by the International Rescue Committee and other similar organizations to rethink humanitarian relief strategy is an uplifting piece of news. Hopefully, it signals the impoverished and displaced people of the world that they are not forgotten.  

– Clarke Hallum

Photo: Flickr